Garmin's female voice has competition, from SpongeBob

Kansas City StarNovember 13, 2010 

Karen Jacobsen has a budding singing career and a way to talk to up to 25 million people a day in a "calm and confident and reassuring way."

It's an enviable spot for someone who makes a living with her vocal cords. She's the designated Australian female voice programmed into every talking Garmin navigational device in the world.

But now she's got some tough competition for an increasingly map-phobic world that relies on voices from the dashboard for directions like "turn right here," "recalculating" or "you've arrived at your destination."

No less than the charmingly adventurous Dora the Explorer and the, um, distinctive SpongeBob SquarePants are angling to take over the directional duties. This month, Olathe-based Garmin released $10 downloads of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon characters for those who want directions from the fictional-turned-functional guides.

It's part of the expanding range of voices available in the gee-whiz gadgets that take satellite readings, match them with an evolving set of electronic maps and transform them into spoken instructions on how to find the nearest barbecue joint or gas station.

Consumers often name their navigational electronics after the voice, and put a name to the voice based on an accent or the developing love-hate relationship with a gizmo that can steer them out of trouble or, occasionally, deep into it.

There's no particular pattern in terms of age or other criteria in picking the voice talent, said Garmin spokeswoman Jessica Myers. But there's a male voice and a female voice for each of the languages, and for a popular language like English, a choice of accents.

"We just look for a voice where they're going to be able to enunciate and speak clearly," she said, "and that is going to be appealing."

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